"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Burden of Grace

Recently David Brooks in the NY Times mused on the nature of religion.  His musing was related to the nominally anti-religious musical, The Book of Mormon.  One of the things he said is;
        "Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow,
         succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically
         rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and

Other commentors have suggested that Brooks is seeking to promote fundamentalism.  I think I can see where they're coming from, but I have to say that my experience suggests that Brooks is more right than his detractors are willing to admit.  Much of what passes for religious life in modern American Christianity is lacking in heft or substance and seems designed to confirm already treasured prejudices and to promote self-affirming impulses.

Jesus says "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  If you look at the picture, the big wooden thing around the Oxen's neck, that's a yoke and the rickety cart full of wood, that's the burden.
An easy yoke and a light burden are still confining and still burdensome.  If we are to take our faith seriously, we have to acknowledge that a particulalry important element of faith is submission, in our case submission to God who is most fully revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  If we claim to be Christians, but if nothing of our lives is altered, we are fooling ourselves.  Being yoked and burdened is about giving up doing what we want and walking where we desire, and instead submitting to the driver and his desires for our lives.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Sermon

As most of you
may know, I work part time as a Chaplain at Mt Carmel West and at Children’s

In the past year,
I have sat with many families
as their loved ones died. 

And I would feel sorry for anyone who gets used to that. 

I’ve sat with the families of newborns
and of ninety-year olds. 
People for whom death was a long time coming, welcomed even 

and people for whom it is the least expected thing in the world. 

Some are better than others,
but the little babies
seem to me to be the hardest to bear. 

Their death is also the death of hopes
and of dreams,
the death of an imagined future. 

Harder still,
for most of the parents,
the first time they ever get to hold the baby,

the first time they ever felt their child’s skin against their own,

the first time even,
that theyve ever hold them so that their faces touch

is as their children draw their last breaths. 

And they continue to hold them
long after
their lungs and heart stop,
unable to let go,
unable to face the reality of death.

So as I take myself to the cross with Jesus on this Good Friday,

I look up at him

and I cannot help but see those little girls and little boys,
and all the others who I have sat with. 

And I see the women at the cross

looking up at him

and I see anew
their anguish at not being able to hold him,

how keenly they want him to not be alone. 

And I see the disciples,

unsure of themselves,
bewildered at the loss of their hopes and dreams,
the loss of imagined futures they felt were so real already,

unable to face the reality of His death;
wanting desperately 
for someone to tell them what to do,

at their own inability to do anything.

For so many of us,
death feels like an unbearable weight. 

It is so difficult to lift
that we cannot imagine
we will ever be able to carry it
and walk again. 

Maybe it should easier for us to bear Jesus’ death knowing what lies in store three days

Maybe it should be easier for us to bear the death of our loved ones,
knowing the promise bought through Jesus’ death. 

But I have to say,

that in my personal experience of death
in the deaths I have witnessed and grieved,

I haven’t seen or felt that. 

It just feels like loss,
Like… emptiness,like a hole
where there should be something tangible and solid.

"My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

That’s what it feels like.

In the face of tragedy or pain,
it is easy to curse God
Or to reject God.
To deny God’s very existence

To disavow that we ever knew God.

I am reminded of something a friend said to me once after Good Friday. 
“I just don’t understand why he had to die.”

I think maybe Jesus had to die
because that’s what we do.
We die. 

All of us,
some sooner,
some later,

but all of us die.

And on some level it just feels right to me that God should know,
really know,
who we are –

know our fears,
our hopes,
the joys of life,but also,
the hurt of loss and death. 

So, whatever Christ did,

whatever great cosmological act is encompassed by the Cross,

it seems to me
that it brought God and us together in a way that could not have been conceived of before it happened

and barely makes sense to us now. 

We, God and us,
are bound together,
in that death.

"In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to
So goes the psalm.

God has come through for us before.
God has never forgotten us

In truth,
God has never forsaken us…

No matter how much it may feel like that.

In our deepest pain and anguish,
I believe, we are closer to God than at any point in our lives

because it is in those moments
that everything we believe about our own capability and competence
is stripped away;
and we come face to face
with our dependence upon God.

What else is there? 

Trusting in God's promise,
now we must wait.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What is church?

What is church?  What exactly do we think we are for and why do we think we should be?  It strikes me that God doesn't exactly need us.  If every Christian in the world disappeared tomorrow (& no I don't mean in a rapture) I suspect God would still find a way to make God's self known and felt.  That said, Christ chose disciples who, in faith, established a human thing called church to maintain the integrity of their witness and to pass along the story of Christ from one generation to the next.  From that the church has long understood itself to be, in some way, the "body" of Christ in the world.  The biblical story claims that the church then is animated by the Holy Spirit as it seeks to be Christ in the world.

So how do we know when we are being Christ?  Well, when John the Baptist's disciples come to ask Jesus how they should know whether he is the expected one or not, Jesus says; "go and tell John what you have seen and heard, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached."  From this list I would expect then that church would look alot more like a hospital than a meeting hall.  And in most Episcopal churches there aren't alot of poor around to have the gospel preached to them.  So maybe that's not it.

Well, in another story Jesus rails against the religous authorities.  He is like an Old Testament prophet unleashing his righteous anger and he goes to the temple to clean house; he "went to the Temple and began to drive out all those who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the stools of those who sold pigeon,and he would not let anyone carry anything through the Temple courtyards. He then taught the people: "It is written in the Scriptures that God said, 'My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.' But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!"  Well, the Romans knocked down the Jerusalem Temple almost 2000 years ago;  I guess we could rail against television evangelists and their ilk who have turned faith into a profitable enterprise for themselves. 

Of course, at the end of Matthew's gospel the resurrected Jesus gives his disciples a mission; "Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age." Well, now maybe we're getting somewhere, we're supposed to baptize people and teach them to do what Jesus would have us do.  But there are lots of people who have been baptized and catechized who no longer ever darken a church's door.  Is that really enough?  What does baptism mean then?  Is it some kind of "get of hell free" card?  Surely there's more to it than that?

It's funny, I don't see anything in any of these stories about lots of the things the church does.  There's no political action, even though to join the church is to acknowledge a ruler beyond any human government.  Christianity would seem to imply some sort of almost seditious act but I've not seen much evidence of that really.  Why the Episcopal church even has a National Cathedral in Washington, DC. 

In those stories there isn't anything about deciding what groups of people are families and which aren't.  But the church is an agent in marriage and various parts of it have weighed in on whether LGBT folks should be married or be able to adopt.

There isn't anything in that list about building buildings, or forming committees, or music or the Bible even.

In the reply to John's disciples, Jesus is saying take care of your neighbor, attend to their needs  In the Temple I think he's saying don't get too wrapped up in religion.  Faith isn't about the right kind of music or the order in which the candles are lit, its about acknowledging the Holy and making it part of your life.  It's also a reminder to those of us who would be professional religionistas that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously; our goal isn't to be princes of the church, but slaves of the church.  And inthe Great Commission of Matthew, we are called to come together.  Baptism isn't some magical ritual, it is the mark of inclusion into the body, but for a body to work the parts kind of need to stay together, we need each other and the most important thing is to be a community of believers.  And as a note I would remind you and myself that Jesus commands us to teach people to do as Jesus asks, it doesn't say "and bash them over the head and say bad things about them if they don't always do it!"

In simple terms, we are called to be loving, to support one another in doing so, and together to discern how best we can love and accept one another.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

To Hell with you!

Someone at church this morning mentioned to me that they had just read about Pastor Rob Bell's emerging belief that there is no Hell.  Mind you, she read this in Time magazine which also famously declared that God was Dead back in 1966.  Apparently Time is working to slowly declare dead much of traditional Christian doctrine though it seems odd that God would have passed away 45 years before Hell.

We didn't really have a conversation about this, for which I am just as glad because I suspect that this lovely lady readily agreed with this assertion and probably expected that I did too.  This is one of those things, like universal salvation, that I'd really like to believe but I am reluctant to fully go there.  By my count Jesus is credited with suggesting that going to Hell is an option for the dead 14 times in the gospels.  To be fair, several of these are really the same because it is an account of similar sayings in the different synoptic gospels.  Interstingly though, I can't find any uses of Hell in John's gospel.  To give an example, in Matthew (chapter 10, verse 28) Jesus says "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell."

The Bible though seems to suggest that we have a decision to make, as is highlighted in this speech of John the Baptist from Mark's gospel;
"And don't think you can escape punishment by saying that Abraham is your ancestor. I tell you that God can take these rocks and make descendants for Abraham! The ax is ready to cut down the trees at the roots; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. I baptize you with water to show that you have repented, but the one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He is much greater than I am; and I am not good enough even to carry his sandals.  He has his winnowing shovel with him to thresh out all the grain. He will gather his into his barn, but he will burn the chaff in a fire"  Jesus' parable of the women waiting for the bridegroom (Matt 25) also seems to suggest that in the kingdom of heaven there are those who will be left out due to their own actions.

The traditions of the church also have long held that there is a place or a state of existence that is Hell; and the Apostles creed speaks of Jesus descending to Hell after his crucifixion.  I could be willing to support an idea hat whatever Hell is, it probably isn't what we have traditionally and popularly imagined.  Do I think that there is a big cave deep in the earth where red dudes with horns and tails who carry tridents boss you about amidst roaring fires?  Well, that doesn't seem likely to me.  But it seems just as unlikely to me that something that gospel and tradition attest too is completely a figment of human imagination.  I admit that the church is not infallible and that it has sometimes gotten things wrong, but the central core about the experience of Israel with Jesus, the execution and resurrection of Jesus, and the witness and work of the apostles are thing to which I am willing to say, I believe.

But, as much as I believe in Hell, I have the suspicion it may be empty because I do not know of any human that ever lived that was beyond redemption.  I don't believe anyone was ever was ever so devoid of goodness that they were utterly and irreversibly evil.  I admire Rob Bell for his courage and willingness to make such a claim about a loving God.  I hope he is right and that the Spirit is leading us to a fuller understanding of God's truth.  Raise your question Rob, help us all to engage with our faith and wrestle with God as Jacob did and never let us rest on doctrine and dogma.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Corporate Citizenship

A friend recently wrote in a Facebook post that the dominant movie theater chain in the Portland, OR metro area had decided to stop publishing movie times in the local paper and she was somewhat dismayed at this development.  Surprisingly, for me anyway, most of the respondents didn't share her response, instead seeing this as a kind of inevitable development in the internet age. 

At its heart, I think the difference in opinions represented in that exchange come from two different views on the roles of corporations in our civil life.  My friends comments seem to suggest that companies have a kind of civic responsibility to serve the diversity of the public while the respondents comments suggest their understanding that corporations have no responsibilites beyond creating wealth for their investors.  In the case of the movie times, it is likely that the corporation decided that an insufficient number of tickets were sold form people who sought information about the films in newspapers and so it was an inefficient use of their resources (ie, money) to buy the advertising space.  And thought their revenue may drop, overall they're better off because their costs will be reduced a t a greater amount than the loss of revenue which actually means a net gain in profits.

Now I don't really want to debate the merits of print versus digital media.  Hey, I'm publishing a blog and when I get to go to a movie I usually do look up my options and buy my ticket online.  At the same time, I do get the paper delivered to my house and subscribe to a handful of magazines that the good ol' mailperson delivers.   Also, I find e-readers highly unsatisfactory.  So I'm not wholly involved in or behind either side of that.

What I am interested in is the question of whether or not corporations have a public duty; that is do they have any responsibilities to the public beyond their attempts to make money for their investors?  Well, as I understand it, corporations developed as a means to insulate individual investors from the courts.  If you gave money to someone for a business and it turned that someone was crooked or wicked, you wouldn't want anyone harmed by their actions to come after you and potentially take away all the rest of the money beyond what you'd already lost from your poor investment.  in other words, corporations were created to mitigate risk to individuals while simultaneously providing stimulus for economic growth which theoretically is good for the many.

The means by which this is done is that the corporation is essentially granted the status of a person in the eyes of the law.  It can do all the things that individuals can do like enter into contracts, sue and be sued, etc.  But because of a fear of the intereference of tradespeople and merchants in the business of government (their was a bias back in the day against such folks, imagine) one of the things not granted to corporations is citizenship.  Corporations can't vote or hold office.  But perhaps this is something we should look at again.

If corporations were granted a kind of limited citizenship, say the ability to vote but not to hold office then we could leverage that to demand some accountability to the community on the part of corporation.  After all, corporations exist only with the assent and blessing of government, that is (here in America anyway) with the assent and blessing of the people.  We demand accountability of individual citizens, why not corporate citizens.  I can see some potential pitfalls, but it seems to me that one advantage could be to dilute the power of multinational corporations.  I'm no expert in economics, these are just some thoughts.  But if anyone has any thoughts of their own on this, I'd be interested to hear them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sermon, April 12 @ Bexley Hall

Readings: Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 102:15-22
John 8:21-30

The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for awhile,
the food is lousy,
water hard to come by.

And just before this part of the story of the exodus,
Moses’ brother and let’s be honest,
the people’s favorite,
died after being stripped of the trappings of his office in front of everyone.

The people are despondent,
and wondering, again,

why did we make these choices?
Where will it end?
When will we get there?

Why is following God so difficult and so often frustrating?

So they grumbled and swore
and spoke against Moses
and God.

And then the snakes show up.

And they bite, and many die.

So, after repenting
and begging Moses
to intercede on their behalf,
God tells Moses to make a bronze snake
and lift it on a standard
so that the people may look upon it when the snakes bite
and escape death.

But the snakes still bite.
God hasn’t made them go away,
he has given the people the means to deal with bite.

God hasn’t really let them off the hook at all.

Because the bronze snake doesn’t ultimately save the people,
it’s a reminder of their sinfulness.
standing before it
prevents this particular kind of death,
but it doesn’t really heal the wounds,
it just holds off the inevitable.

And in this way
it is like the Mosaic Law
in that it condemns without pardon.

The bronze snake is a sign of God’s power,
but it’s not actually God

And a thousand years later,
as we join the gospel story,
we find that the snakes still bite.
And that following God is still maddeningly difficult.

The people who challenge Jesus
are, in a way,
still standing in front of the bronze snake.
They’ve expanded it
and developed complex rituals
and refined their understanding of the Law.

The Pharisees
can confidently proclaim
what is required
of every situation
that life brings.

But they have traded the challenges
and discomforts
of following God
for the relative comfort
of serving the symbols of God.

"I have much to say about you," Jesus declares, "and much to condemn"

You and I have chosen to follow Jesus.
But sometimes
I, just like the challengers of Jesus in the gospel,
or the ancient Israelites,
still confuse the symbols of God
with the reality of God.

Today’s psalm begins with these lines;

   Hear my prayer, O Jehovah, and let my cry come to You.
   Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble;
       bow down Your ear to me in the day I call answer me quickly.
   For my days are finished in smoke, and my bones are burned like a burning heap.
   My heart is stricken and dried like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread.

When we are hurting,
when we are afraid,
I think that what we really want
is what the author of that psalm wanted
and what the Israelites of the stories wanted,

a sign,
a symbol of God’s continuing presence.
And Jesus’ refusal to give those assurances in the story
and in our lives
is deeply unsettling.

This has been a difficult Lenten season for me.
Halfway through my time
at seminary,
the initial excitement has passed,
the hopeful expectation of the future has yet to arrive.

I feel a little stuck here in the middle
and I often feel
I have given up so much already to be here,
that life can
sometimes seems
like a balance of not fully satisfactory compromises.

And in the midst of that,
there is the weight of Bill’s departure
and the challenges of the search process.

I feel pulled apart
between profound loss
and the potential of hope for the future.

I want God to reassure me,
to give me a sign,
I want someone to erect a bronze snake
and to say to me,
just stand in front of it and the bites won’t hurt.

I think
we long to encounter holiness
in every aspect of our lives,
but reality is filled with imperfect,
and oftentimes
trying and unpleasant people
and it can be so hard
to trust in a God who can seem unreliable
or ineffective,
so unwilling to reassure.

"I have much to say about you," Jesus declares, "and much to condemn;
but the one who sent me is true"

God told Moses to make the bronze serpent
because he wanted his people to know
that God was still with them.
Even as they turned away,
as they fell short,
as the snakes bit their ankles,
God was still there
and would remain,

because God is true.

It is our misuse
of the symbols of God
that is the real source of our dissatisfaction,
and not the lack of God’s presence.

Of course God seems absent
when we look for God in signs and idols.

"Look, I’m right here!" – that’s what Jesus is telling the crowd - and us.

As Jesus explains to his hearers
if you believe in me,
if you believe
that in what I do
you see the handiwork of God in the world,
if you can see beyond the symbols
and see that with me
you are face to face with God
then you will know the truth
and the truth shall set you free.

Jesus is trying to open their eyes
to the difference
between the signs and symbols of God’s power
and God,
God’s self.

Jesus condemns us
because we are too often
only really comfortable
with what we can see
and what we can touch.

We want the comfort of bronze snakes
that we can engage on our own terms.
if we want to be made whole,
if we want to be healed,
if we want to move beyond death,
we’ve got to put wanting things only on our terms aside.

And following Jesus
is about learning to embrace discomfort,
carrying our crosses
alongside him to the place of execution,
stripped bare
of our illusions of comfort and control.

In Paradise Lost,
John Milton’s epic poem,
as Adam and Eve sit together
in mutual recrimination
Eve suggests
that perhaps they should kill themselves
to avoid the pains of life
and the agony of the human race to come.
Adam counters however
that though they have lost the grace in which they were created,
their lives still have purpose
because it is their job to
"bruise the serpent’s head."

Perhaps Milton was on to something here
because the snakes aren’t going away.
They still bite
we still fall short of our potential
in many ways.

"I have much to say about you," Jesus declares,
"and much to condemn;
but the one who sent me is true"

God is true.
God’s love remains stubbornly steadfast
in the face our faithlessness.

As Jesus goes on to say,
it is this truth,
this true-ness of God
which sets us free.
We are not free of trouble
or of sinfulness.

The snakes are all around us,
but we don’t need to be satisfied
with standing in front of bronze symbols
of God’s power
in Christ
we stand face to face with God.

Following God is frustrating to us
because God does not offer us insulation
from the hazards of the broken world
in which we live.

We are frustrated
because God
does not participate
in our own illusion-building
but commands us to stand
stripped and bare at his side.

Faith is not a guarantee of good food or good water.
It is not a promise of safety or security.

It is unnerving
because it demands
that we engage fully with others
at a level of intimacy
that sometimes makes us squirm.

When we stand with Christ,
when we lift up the Son of Man though
we are freed
by a promise of never-ending love.
It is a freedom to set aside the fears of tomorrow
to concentrate on loving today

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Because the Bible tells me so, NOT

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I heard just a brief outtake of a man telling the
story of conversation with his brother. They were speaking of the biblical story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and there’s a line that says the sun stood still for a whole day.

                    Joshua 10:13 -  “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the
                    nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written
                    in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and

                    hasted not to go down about a whole day.”
And on the radio, the man asks his brother if he really believed that God would stop the planet spinning and suspend all sort of laws of Physics.  And the brother replies, if I doubt this where do I stop?

Where do I stop?  This kind of reliance on the Bible for faith, this focus on scripture as the locus of faith, is, in my mind, one of the bad fruits of the Protestant Reformation.  As an Anglican, the official party line is that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation.  Now, I understand what that is intended to mean, that demands cannot be made on one beyond what is in scripture to assure salvation.  Things say, like, paying the Church to ensure to ensure your soul goes straight to heaven without any delay.  And that scripture should serve as a brake on the over-reaching of religious authorities, I’m all in favor.  But that the Bible should serve as a brake on the individual and communal search for God; to suggest that the Bible is a blueprint or manual or that God in some way is found only there,
well that I have some problem with.

As I see it, the greatest challenge to those of us who would hope to spread the message of Jesus is this issue of the Bible and its use to the Christian.  The Bible as we know it didn’t really take shape until the late 4th century, and only after a long process of discernment and debate within the church. And much like the formulation of the creeds wasn’t meant to pin things down exactly, but to establish the boundaries beyond which the integrity of the gospel message was lost.  Do you think you’re a better Christian than the martyrs because you have a Bible and they didn’t?  Didn’t think so.

I think it’s important that Jesus didn’t leave a ‘Book of Jesus’ that spells everything out
for us, once and for all time.  What Jesus left us were people.  People who were witnesses to his ministry, his execution and his resurrection.  People with a story to tell.  We aren’t people of the book, but people of the story and the church through the generations has developed and lived out that story through its worship, its prayer, its disciplines and its responses
to the world it inhabits.  Jesus didn't leave behind a manual of solutions for every possibility.  Jesus left relationships so that we could work it out together over and over again. 

And he sent us the Holy Spirit to continue to be with us and teach us.  The problem with using the Bible as a substitute for a faithful engagement with the Spirit is that it makes you
always look back and compare this age and these people to the one golden moment two millennia ago.

The biblical witness is important to us because it helps us frame and test our own experiences.  Are these of God?  The Bible, as a product of communal discernment, is a guide for us, but it is not the destination.  You want to know God, go pray, go worship, go get involved in messy human relationships. That’s where God is, not in a book on a shelf.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vanity, all is vanity

A friend and classmate has also taken up blogging recently and so I wanted to add a link to her page.  We may be the only reader the other has, but mutual support seems appropriate.  She can be found at http://rosalindhughes.wordpress.com/

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities

Today is the anniversary of the assasinationn of Martin Luther King, Jr, which, I am pleased to say is an official day of remembrance in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church.  In America we like to recognize beginnings more than endings and I think it would have been prefereable to make April 4th MLK day rather than in February, but I don't recall getting to vote on it.  In fact, as I recall there was a great deal of opposition to creating MLK day generally across the country.  It is a shame, an enduring shame, that too many people still see this as a "Black" holiday and not an American one.  Though in some ways a flawed human, Martin is, nevertheless, one of the greatest Americans ever.  His witness to the truth of segregation and prejudice and his unflinching resolve to confront it non-violently is an example worthy of emulation. 

I grew up in an environment of passive prejudice.  I don't think any of the adults I knew growing up were involved in any kind of violent acts towards African-Americans, but they weren't afraid to express their disdain.  Looking back, what is so surprising is how open and pervasive their bigotry was.  Nice people who loved me and cared about their communities, who were faithful and hardworking had this one thing about them that was just out of synch with the rest of their lives.  And we kids were taught lots of ways to incorporate this passive prejudice into our own lives; Brazil nuts were "n-----r toes," we chose using the rhyme "eenie, meenie, miney moe, catch a n----r by his toe."

The southside of Indianapolis, where I gre up, was not a place that welcomed African Americans, and in truth they existed more in my imagination and on TV than in reality.  But the year I started high school was also the year that court-ordered desegregation and bussing became a reality.  I'd like to report that initial fears and anger were overcome and that a community of tolerance and understanding blossomed.  That isn't what happened though.  By and large, we and they lived seperately in the same space.  Personally, I never understood racism and had begun to call out my parents for their casual racism, but even I was dismayed to be met by people who hated me for the tone of my skin.  Black anger was a palpable reality and to see it was confounding and confusing.  I had imagined that people who suffered oppression would in some way be more tolerant and enlightened then their oppressors.  It was a disappointment to find them all too human.

All that was a long time ago.  Much has changed, but not everything.  By and large the people I grew up with abandoned our neighborhoods and moved further south across the countly line and away from desegregation.  No one I know under the age of 70 would openly say any of the derogatory names for African Americans we once used so commonly.  I think most of my siblings even voted for Obama.  Blacks are no longer to be disdained in the abstract or openly.  Perspectives have shifted, but in their hearts I have to wonder how much has really changed.  My father said, "really I don't hate black people, I just don't want my daughter to marry one."

What Martin was aiming at in his dream was a world where father's worried more about their daughters marrying people of dignity and self respect rather than skin tone.  Martin talked about this in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail where he described the hurtfulness of white liberals who weren't exactly in opposition, but who weren't actively seeking justice and reconciliation either.  At the foot of the cross we stand convicted of our desire to put ourselves at the center of the world, of desiring the power of the world to make the changes we desire.  Christ's love, God's grace frees us from those needs though and should free us to see the reality of our likeness with our brother and our sister.  I am thankful for the witness of Martin Luther King to God's promise of grace and reconciliation and I am thankful that his memory endures.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

RIP, Reynolds Price

I just found out that author Reynolds Price died recently.  I never met him face to face, but it was while reading his book Three Gospels that I felt the urge to be baptized.  So for that, I am grateful.  I think it is hard for us to comprehend the many and varied ways each of us may touch the life of another.  I know I wish I was more mindful of the things I say offhandedly, or the ways in which I don't slow down enough to notice or appreciate the people I come into contact with every day.